Detective Comics #1038 review

I have enjoyed most of this run so far, although the previous issue’s writing was questionable. Unfortunately, this week it’s not much better, as I still find myself writing the same critiques. It all comes down to this: the narrative is lacking focus, which holds back the quality of the overall story-telling.

First of all, I’m still not convinced that Worth is a strong villain. As I’ve said last time, the character feels like just another maniac with off-the-charts anger management problems. The story is constantly trying to affirm that Worth is this powerful crime lord with lots of influence, but we’re rarely shown any of this, except for very brief moments throughout this arc where, for example, Worth has bribed the cops to get out of a sticky situation. Other than that, most of the details about Worth’s character and life are delivered through exposition once again. The reason that it’s preferable to show to readers how events unfold, particularly in a comic book, is because that way a writer can facillitate an emotional connection between the reader and the artwork. If readers are only told about certain events or characters, then such a connection is unlikely to get established and the story will be weaker for it.

What doesn’t work in Worth’s favor, either, is the fact that a lot about the character feels derivative. For example, he’s supposed to be very rich and powerful, and not only do we already have the Penguin to play that role in Gotham (and no, it does not help that Penguin actually makes an appearance here), but of course there have been many other rich villains like Worth throughout Batman history as well. Worth is also a big, hulking figure like Bane and Killer Croc. So, what Worth is lacking is a unique defining character trait, something that sets him apart from other villains. Right now, Worth feels like a sort of amalgamation of other well-known villains rather than a recognizable character on his own. Stories need strong villains so that these villains can confront our heroes with their shortcomings, thereby forcing our heroes to learn, adapt and grow. So far, I’m not convinced that Worth is able to be this kind of villain to Batman. He’s just been running around, blowing things up, punching people, and yelling a lot. It’s hard to take this guy seriously.

But, all things considered, Worth isn’t the biggest problem that this book has at the moment. The story simply isn’t focused. It jumps between characters like Worth, Nakano, Vile and now also Penguin, and all of these feel like separate islands. Yes, they do interact, but I feel like not enough time is spend on fleshing any of them out properly, or establishing connections between them properly. Had the creative team focused on a single villain, thereby keeping the mystery concise, I think this story would’ve been far more successful in terms of technique and narrative. It likely would’ve been more streamlined and compelling, instead of all-over-the-place without any sort of indication as to where all this is going. The story has started to ramble.

What’s more, I don’t get the sense that we’re getting enough plot development at all. We see Worth still being angry for the exact same reasons as before; we see Bruce and Helena speculating about their case but not finding any answers yet; the Penguin arrives on the scene and that’s about it; and we get some good action sequences. But what is the deal with the mystery? We learn that Worth and Vile are working together now, but that alone isn’t enough. We’re five issues into this new arc and, despite each issue feeling brief, the overall story is progressing at a snail’s pace. Even if this is intended as a slow burn, I still need more than what I’m given to stay interested in the story, and right now my interest is waning.

For me, the main draw is the artwork. I’m still buying these issues for myself because I love how Mora and Bogdanovic (who is the penciller on #1038), with the help of colorist Bellaire, draw Batman and Gotham City. On the one hand, the fact that the artwork alone can carry this book, making even the worst writing palatable, is a testament to these artists’ skills and to the quality of their work. On the other hand, if a different artist of lesser skill was drawing this (and if I wasn’t reviewing this), I doubt I’d give this current run so much as a second glance. In other words, in my opinion the writing just isn’t on par with the art, and this makes the two seem disconnected. When there’s such a noticeable difference in quality between the two departments, they don’t blend. When they don’t blend, I’m taken out of the story. Especially on a high profile book like Detective Comics, I think it’s important to get these things right. Customers deserve good quality, now more than ever with these ridiculous price points! We’ve been goofing around for far too long.

Recommended if…

  • You enjoy watching Batman and Huntress work together.
  • You are just here for the artwork.

Overall: I might seem overly critical in this review, but I’ve always gravitated more toward Detective Comics than the main Batman book, and seeing as there are such wonderful artists working on this current run, I want it to succeed. There are elements here that I really enjoy, such as the dynamic between Batman and Huntress and the emphasis on detective work (although the title seems to shift away from detective stuff to more action with lots of explosions). I also like that Batman is forced to go back to basics and think on his feet. These are all good things! But as far as the writing and the mystery goes, there just isn’t enough incentive to keep picking up these issues, if you ask me. Even the backup about the Penguin, while not entirely pointless, seems completely unnecessary. Story-wise, I don’t think this comic is worth the amount of money that they’re charging customers. Now, I’m still crazy enough to pick up the floppies for the art because I’m such a big fan of these artists, but that doesn’t mean that I recommend this. Instead, it’s probably better to wait and see if the quality of this book improves over time before you spend your hard-earned money on this. It’s a shame, really, because this story was off to a good, solid start. Hopefully the creative team can still course correct.

Score: 5.5/10

Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with an advance copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.